Wild food restaurant Native made its name as a pioneer of the wild food movement from a street food stall in Hackney.
The acute seriousness with which founders Imogen Davis and Ivan Tisdall-Downes approached their mission to showcase the best of Britain’s foraged foods and game with zero waste quickly found a captive audience in hipster East London. So much so that they outgrew the stalls and supper clubs and put down permanent roots in Neal’s Yard in 2016.
Fertile in name only, Covent Garden might have seemed an odd spot for a restaurant so fixated on hunting and gathering, though the pubs and bars in Seven Dials could well be contenders for Where the Wild Things Are for entirely different reasons.
Nonetheless, it was a bumper three years for the duo, who were almost universally lauded by critics for their innovative approach to foraged and seasonal produce until Camden Council denied their planning application in May and they were forced to move again.
Three months and a Kickstarter campaign later, Native has resettled in a much larger site on Southwark Street, quite appropriately next door to London’s oldest food market.
The Borough connection has proven bountiful, Imogen tells us, while depositing botanic-filled cocktails on our table (a soft rosemary-tinted gin and tonic and a zingy mule of vodka infused with the melilot clover).
This is, after all, a market that is doing wonderful things in the zero-waste movement, from its recycling practices – none of the rubbish goes into landfill – through to traders’ weekly donations to food save charity Plan Zheroes.
Native’s new site has more than double the covers than that of Neal’s Yard and a much larger kitchen, which has allowed Ivan – who trained at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage – and his chefs room for greater experimentation.
There is also improved storage, which Imogen points out is actually quite important when you’re extolling the virtues of using the whole beast but are not able to fit the whole beast in the building.
We sip our cocktails and munch our way through tree stump platters bearing Chefs Wasting Snacks: that is, the bits and bobs that would have ended up in the bin were this any other kitchen. Instead the potato skins and carrot tops have been turned into moreish canapés that certainly whet the appetite for zero waste.
The small menu of three starters, three mains and two desserts is truly seasonal, which can require several changes in one week, and usually results in multiple appearances of certain ingredients.
In August this means plenty of courgettes, summer tomatoes, cherries, samphire and hazelnuts, plus pollock, mackerel and veal. We start with a panzella straight out of Tuscany via the Isle of Wight for bright, juicy tomatoes, Brockley for chunks of Blackwood Cheese Company’s soft, raw cows’ milk cheese Graceburn, and yesterday’s bread bin for crispy croutons.
Wood pigeon arrives not as the deconstructed kebab for which Native is well known, but instead as a tender breast fillet topped with a herby crumb and served with fermented turnips and cherry hoisin on an artful splat of hazelnut milk that brings out its nuttiness.
Mains are just as impressive, a perfectly cooked pollock with a delicate crust and parsnip puree, and rose veal with hazelnuts, blackened courgette – a surprisingly smokey delight – and buttermilk.
As for dessert, a silky white chocolate crémeux is rich and decadent atop a nutty crumble, and makes heroes of the last of the summer strawberries.
The cavernous space could do with a couple more tables to inject a bit more warmth into the place, though artfully placed (and slightly dehydrated) trees do a good job of filling the spaces that the kitchen probably doesn’t quite have the capacity to serve just yet.
We emerge and wind our back around Borough Market with a renewed appreciation for the potato scraps and courgette stalks in compost bins.
Native might be the new kids on the block for this pioneering corner of London’s zero-waste movement, but it is certainly leading the way.
Native, 32 Southwark Street SE1 1TU